No way was I going to do something so foolhardy. But a minute later, I’d done just that – and lived to tell the tale.
Anyone’s instinct behind the wheel is to stay in control, not to hand over the reins to a mere piece of metal – but the RX-8 rose to the challenge, bringing us to a halt exactly where Rod the instructor had predicted.
I shared my driving experience with half a dozen RX-8 owners courtesy of Mazda, which initially offered the free ‘professional driver development programme’ for a limited period to new buyers.
That was 6,500 drivers and nearly two years ago. The scheme has proved so successful that it has been extended to meet continued customer demand.
All the owners I met were pretty impressed with their vehicle choice, apart from a few gripes alluding to slight corrosion, particularly on the optional silver ‘fins’ some of them had specified, and fuel economy.
It’s true that parsimony is not the RX-8’s best attribute (Fleet News testers have rarely managed the claimed combined mpg figure of 24.8mpg and the car drinks oil) but, as we were told: ‘You don’t buy a sports car like no other to be frugal.’
The aim of the Prodrive course is to inform as well as to entertain and it lived up to its promise. Instructors included advanced driving specialists, Class 1 police drivers and former rally and race drivers. They were all friendly and jargon-free.
The exercises are designed to show off the Mazda’s state-of-the-art active and passive safety features as well as its performance and handling capabilities.
So the half-day track section includes a session on the skidpan with safety features temporarily disabled to demonstrate the advantages of ABS, EBD and traction control.
Circuit driving and high-speed braking are covered and speed merchants can test out their vehicles in safety, though probably not to the RX-8’s limits (said to be 0-60mph in 6.4 seconds and a top speed of 146mph).
RX-8 owners are likely to have a good idea already that they have purchased what amounts to a performance driving bargain. Anyone who hadn’t is likely to be in no doubt after their day out with Prodrive.
Model: Mazda RX-8 231
Price (OTR): £22,100 (£25,900 as tested)
CO2 emissions (g/km): 284
Company car tax bill (2005/6) 40% tax-payer: £256 per month
Insurance group: 16
Combined mpg: 24.8
Test mpg: 20.3
CAP Monitor residual value: £9,400/43%
HSBC contract hire rate: £467
Expenditure to date: £31.53 (three litres of oil)